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6 Backdoor Pilots (and why they belong at the back door)

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A "backdoor pilot" doesn't refer to some TWA navigator with an unusual fetish; it is a term used in the TV industry to describe the use of an established TV show to test the waters for a proposed new series. Confused? Here are some examples:

1. The Multi-cultural Brady Bunch Spin-off that Never Was

During the final season of The Brady Bunch, the Brady family generously relinquished most of a 30 minute episode in order to introduce their neighbors, Ken and Kathy Kelly (portrayed by Ken Berry and Brooke Bundy). The Kellys had adopted three boys "“ Matt, Dwayne, and Steve "“ in what must be the minimum amount of time required by California law. Sounds like a rather blah premise until you consider the "groundbreaking" 1970s twist: one of the boys was white, one was African-American, and one was Asian-American. Sherwood Schwartz hoped that Kelly's Kids would be picked up as a series, but the network passed.

5 More after the jump!

2. The Original (and more bitter) Empty Nest

Fans of The Golden Girls often rate the episode entitled "Empty Nests" as one of their least favorites. This episode featured only peripheral appearances by the four principals, and instead introduced us to previously-never-seen neighbors Rita Moreno and Paul Dooley, who were going through a marital crisis shortly after their college-aged daughter moved out. Empty Nest eventually did become a series, but only after some serious re-tooling. The producers decided that the original premise would have dissolved into constant bickering between Dooley and Moreno's characters, so they were dumped in favor of a widowed Richard Mulligan, whose adult daughters had moved back home. (Sort of made the nest not-so-empty, but why quibble over the little details?)

3. Tony Orlando goes Quiet

Once upon a time (specifically, the mid-1970s) Tony Orlando's career was on fire; along with Dawn "“ backing vocalists Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson "“ he hit number one on the Billboard pop charts three times. For three years, the trio also hosted a popular TV variety show that attracted the biggest names in show business. Around that same time, Bill Cosby was focusing on stand-up comedy, and often worked as an opening act for Orlando's Las Vegas shows. Flash forward to 1985, when The Cosby Show ruled the prime time airwaves, and Orlando couldn't even get a job on the oldies concert tour circuit. The Cos graciously tried to help out his old pal with an episode of The Cosby Show titled "Mr. Quiet," in which Orlando appeared as the head of the local community center. Later, Tony admitted that the reason this proposed pilot wasn't picked up as a series was, simply, because his performance "stunk."

4. Three Strikes for Who's the Boss

There's an old show biz adage that says "if you throw enough [censored] against the wall, sooner or later something will stick." The creators of Who's the Boss doggedly tried to make lightning strike twice (and thrice) with limited success. In one instance, Leah Remini "“ Samantha's best friend from Brooklyn who'd never been mentioned in previous shows "“ came to visit. She ended up with a modeling contract by the end of the episode, courtesy of agency owner Michael Learned. (Living Dolls, the resultant series, lasted only 16 episodes and is probably remembered best as the launching pad for future Academy Award winner Halle Berry.) Another episode pitted Fran Drescher and Donna Dixon against one another as spokesmodels for a line of pre-packaged Italian food. Charmed Lives, the sitcom ABC created from this equation, lasted a mere three episodes.

5. The Nanny gets a Makeover

Speaking of Fran Drescher, she hosted her own back door pilot in the "Chatterbox" episode of her sitcom, The Nanny. Tracy Nelson portrayed an aspiring actress trying to make ends meet. She was hired as a shampoo girl at the Chatterbox (Fran's favorite salon) owned by Patrick Cassidy, a single dad who seemed to need help raising his son. The show was little more than The Nanny set in a beauty parlor. CBS rejected the new series, deciding that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery.

6. A Taste of Really Strong Medicine

The Whoopi Goldberg-produced Strong Medicine was one of the Lifetime network's most successful original series. They had managed to land a string of three former major network stars to star in the hospital drama: Janine Turner, Patricia Richardson and Rick Schroder. No wonder they got a bit cocky by Season Five and used one episode to launch First Response, an Emergency! clone about the trials and tribulations of paramedics on the job. First Response centered around Dr. Vanessa Burke, the head of the Rittenhouse Hospital trauma center, who happened to be an African-American orphan adopted by a white family. The family's natural daughter (Katie) was a former drug addict/juvenile offender who had allegedly turned her life around and was now an EMT (hired only because her adoptive big sister gave her a break). Viewers needed a blowtorch to cut through all the plot contrivances presented in this pilot, so it's no wonder the show was never picked up.

As you're watching the syndicated reruns of your favorite shows, keep an eye out for an episode that features very little on-screen time of the main stars. It just may have been the producers slipping a backdoor pilot in for your consideration. Let us know of any you've noticed that we haven't mentioned.

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6 Tiny Details You Might Have Missed in the Latest Episode of Game of Thrones
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HBO

Game of Thrones saw a drop in adrenaline last night in “Eastwatch,” the unlucky episode forced to follow the fighting and flames of the final battle in “The Spoils of War.” Still, “Eastwatch” was chock full of dramatic reveals and twisting intrigue—scintillating stuff, if you remember the six seasons of minutiae subtly referenced in last night’s episode. For viewers who haven’t been keeping as detailed a record of events in Westeros as Maester Maynard, here’s a rundown of six tiny details you might have missed in the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

1. WILL SOMEONE PLEASE LISTEN TO GILLY?

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The biggest reveal in “Eastwatch” came in an easy-to-miss throwaway line—and the only other character onscreen wasn’t even listening. Just before Samwell Tarly burst into his rant about the shortsighted maesters of the Citadel, Gilly stumbled across a possible bombshell regarding Jon Snow’s lineage in Maester Maynard’s records. She discovers that Maynard “issued an annulment for a Prince Rhaegar and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony in Dorne.”

If Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were married when they conceived Jon Snow, then the King in the North isn’t a bastard after all. He is rightfully Jon Targaryen, and has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne. (This might also explain the touching moment between Jon and Drogon earlier in the episode.)

2. THE NOT-SO-SECRET RAVEN SCROLL

As Arya and Littlefinger continued their game of Spy vs. Spy last night, Arya found a “hidden” note from Sansa to her brother Robb dating back to the show’s second season. To save you the trouble of deciphering her handwriting, it reads:

“Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert’s brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me very well and provide me with every comfort. I beg you: come to King’s Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any strife between the great houses of Lannister and Stark.”

Judging from Littlefinger’s self-satisfied smirk, this appears to be part of a scheme to drive a wedge between Sansa and Arya, who will not understand that her sister wrote this under threat from Cersei Lannister.

3. CERSEI’S ILL-FATED PREGNANCY

Cersei and Jaime’s joy over the newest all-Lannister pregnancy may be short-lived. Prophecies aren’t always straightforward in this series, but the fortune teller Maggy the Frog’s prophecies about Cersei have held remarkably true thus far. She predicted that Cersei would have three children and that each one of them would die, before she herself would be killed by her younger brother. If Cersei is pregnant with a fourth child, the only way the prophecy can hold true is if she and/or her unborn child die before Cersei gives birth.

4. DAENERYS REPRISES HER “BREAK THE WHEEL” SPEECH

Daenerys’s appeal to the captured Lannister soldiers and allies after the Battle of the Loot Train centered on her promise to “destroy the wheel that has rolled over rich and poor to the benefit of no one but the Cersei Lannisters of the world.” This was a callback to a Season 5 conversation she had with Tyrion Lannister, when she made the same vow to “break the wheel” of ruling families rotating in and out of power.

5. SAM’S “BETTER MEN” CALLBACK

    After making one of the most momentous discoveries in the series thus far, Gilly politely listened while her boyfriend Sam explained his reasons for wanting to sneak out of the Citadel. “I’m tired of reading about the achievements of better men,” Sam said, referencing the stinging words of his recently-roasted father, Randyll Tarly.

    During Sam and Gilly’s disastrous meet-the-parents dinner in Season 6, Randyll lamented that his son was still buried in books, “reading about the achievements of better men.” Of course, Sam might do well to pay attention to the research achievements of the better woman sitting by his side.

    6. THE SENTIMENTAL SLAVER’S COIN

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      As Tyrion bid farewell to Ser Jorah last night, he gave his old friend a gold coin as a keepsake. The coin dates back to Season 5, when Tyrion and Jorah were sold to fight in the slave pits of Meereen. Tyrion suggested that their master free and pay them. The slaver gave Tyrion a coin, but the men remained in chains. With Jorah beyond the wall on a mission to capture a Wight alive—undead?—we’ll see if he manages to return Tyrion’s sentimental gift.

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      10 Things You Might Not Know About South Park
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      Comedy Central

      South Park has been a favorite of comedy fans since its broadcast debut in 1997, keeping a permanent seat in internet culture thanks to a slew of quotable catch phrases and delightfully inflammatory conversation pieces. Nevertheless, there are a few things about Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s iconic series—which made its debut 20 years ago today—that you might not know.

      1. SOUTH PARK PIONEERED THE WAVE OF “MATURE” TELEVISION.

      Making its debut in the summer of 1997, South Park entered the small screen circuit just in time to reap the benefits of the Federal Communications Commission’s latest venture: the TV Parental Guidelines. The rating system went into effect in January of the same year, distinguishing “child friendly” programming from “adult content.” Upon its premiere on August 13, South Park became the first weekly series to earn the “TV-MA” (or “Mature Audiences”) label.

      2. MOST OF THE SERIES’S FEMALE CAST MEMBERS PERFORM UNDER PSEUDONYMS.

      The wealth of the male characters on South Park are voiced by creators and writers Parker and Stone, but the animated Colorado town’s female population has long owed its lines to a small number of women behind the scenes. The voice actresses principally responsible for this lot have been, at various points, Mona Marshall, April Stewart, Eliza Schneider, and the late Mary Kay Bergman.

      Early on in her South Park tenure, Disney and Hanna-Barbera mainstay Bergman was sometimes credited as Shannen Cassidy in order to avoid fallout from the ideological differences between South Park and her family-friendly material. Similarly, Stewart adopted the alias Gracie Lazar for her South Park work, and Schneider (who left the series in 2003) performed as “Blue Girl,” a handle she also utilized in her music career. Only Marshall has been consistently credited without a pseudonym.

      3. SEVERAL CELEBRITIES HAVE PLAYED EASY-TO-MISS CAMEOS.

      South Park’s preferred use of celebrity guest stars differs quite a bit from that of its animated sitcom brethren, a community that typically aims to “play up” the notability of a visiting voice actor. With a few exceptions, South Park favors hiding any trace of a star’s contribution, relegating big-name guests to little more than animal sounds. Actors as renowned as George Clooney, Jay Leno, and Henry Winkler have provided dog barks, cat purrs, and monster growls, respectively, for the show.

      4. ONE NOTABLE FAN REFUSED AN OFFER TO GUEST STAR.

      Of course, not all Hollywood stars are game for this caliber of work. Taking note of South Park’s meteoric rise in popularity at the inception of its second season, Jerry Seinfeld contacted creators Parker and Stone to express interest in voicing a character. They offered the comedian the nonspeaking part of “Turkey No. 2” in their Thanksgiving episode, but Seinfeld declined.

      5. SOME FAMOUS NAMES HAVE WRITTEN FOR THE SERIES.

      Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

      Today, Bill Hader and Kristen Schaal are TV comedy stars in their own right. However, while Hader was still appearing on Saturday Night Live, he doubled as a consultant writer and then producer for Parker and Stone’s animated series. Similarly, Schaal spent 2007 working as a consultant writer on South Park, before padding her resume with parts on Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.

      6. A SITCOM LEGEND CONTRIBUTED TO TWO EPISODES OF THE SERIES.

      It is hardly a surprise to learn that the daringly controversial Parker and Stone hold great reverence for the king of all politically incorrect sitcoms: All in the Family. As such, the pair’s communal dream came true when Norman Lear, the brain behind the groundbreaking series, brought his talents to the South Park set as a writing consultant on the consecutive season 7 episodes “Cancelled” (the 100th episode produced) and “I’m a Little Bit Country.”

      7. TREY PARKER APPLIED THE SHOW’S VISUAL STYLE TO A SERIES OF PHILOSOPHICAL SHORTS.

      Inheriting a reverence for Buddhism from his father, Randy, Trey Parker went on to discover affection for the philosophies of Zen writer and speaker Alan Watts. In 2007, Parker borrowed the construction paper aesthetic of his popular Comedy Central series to a side project: animated sequences accompanying short segments of Watts’s lectures. Subjects brought to life through Parker’s animation included Watts’ take on music (“Life and Music”), personality extremes (“Prickles and Goo”), and the human race’s relationship with the planet (“Appling”).

      8. SOUTH PARK REUNITED A FAMOUS COMIC DUO.

      The season four episode “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” which aired in 2000, was notable for employing a pair of guest stars for more than just a few canine grunts. Counterculture comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, who had long since dissolved their big-screen partnership, both lent their voices to the installment. Chong admitted that he and Marin didn’t record their parts together for the episode, but he did credit South Park with reviving their professional camaraderie.

      “Cheech did his bit one day and I came in the next day and did my bit,” he told UCTV. “That was the first time we did something together in 20 years so yes, we can give South Park the credit.” Chong’s math might be a little off—his and Marin’s previous proper film collaboration was Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, although they shared credits well into the ’90s—but the spirit of his words sticks. Since the South Park episode, Chong and Marin have joined forces on a handful of film and television projects, including Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie.

      9. AN INSECT MUTATION WAS NAMED AFTER A SOUTH PARK CHARACTER.

      Comedy Central

      Throughout the first five seasons of South Park, the primary distinguishing characteristic borne by the character Kenny McCormick was his proclivity to die suddenly in every episode. This unfortunate trait won Kenny the honor of lending his name to a mutation in the genetic structure of the adult fruit fly, discovered in 2002 by scientist Sophie Rutschmann. The gene was found to predict imminent mortality upon contact with an otherwise benign strain of bacteria; this “certain death” mutation was aptly nicknamed “Kenny” after South Park’s ill-fated character.

      10. THE TOURETTE SYNDROME ASSOCIATION HAS PRAISED SOUTH PARK’S TREATMENT OF THE DISEASE.

      Well aware of South Park’s reputation for insensitivity, the Tourette Syndrome Association approached the series’ season 11 episode, “Le Petit Tourette,” prepared to be gravely offended. The nonprofit organization was unsurprised by South Park’s heavy focus on coprolalia, or involuntary cursing—a symptom disproportionately associated with the disease in popular culture—but went on record as saying that they were impressed by the episode’s treatment of the condition, as well as by its wealth of well-researched information.

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